Federal appeals court finds Michigan affirmative action ban unconstitutional

Federal appeals court finds Michigan affirmative action ban unconstitutional

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[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] Friday that Proposal 2 [text; JURIST news archive], an amendment to the Michigan Constitution [text, PDF] banning affirmative action in public employment, public education and state contracting, is unconstitutional. The court ruled that this unduly burdened minorities by abusing a political process where minorities were likely to have no redress.

The Supreme Court’s statements in Hunter and Seattle clarify that equal protection of the laws is more than a guarantee of equal treatment under the law substantively. It is also an assurance that the majority may not manipulate the channels of change in a manner that places unique burdens on issues of importance to racial minorities. In effect, the political process theory hews to the unremarkable belief that, when two competitors are running a race, one may not require the other to run twice as far, or to scale obstacles not present in the first runner’s course. Ensuring the fairness of political processes, in particular, is essential, because an electoral minority is by definition disadvantaged in its attempts to pass legislation; and “discrete and insular minorities” are especially so given the unique hurdles they face.

The Sixth Circuit’s ruling reverses a 2008 decision by the US District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan [official website] to dismiss the challenge [JURIST report] with prejudice. Judge David Lawson had found that Proposal 2 was “facially neutral” regarding racial discrimination and did not violate the US Constitution.

Michigan voters approved [JURIST report] the constitutional amendment in November 2006, and it was initially expected to take effect in late December. In December 2006, a federal judge ruled that the universities could delay implementing the proposal [JURIST report] until the they had completed the 2006-2007 admission cycle under current procedures, but that order was later stayed [opinion, PDF] by the Sixth Circuit. The US Supreme Court [official website] declined [JURIST report] to consider whether the University of Michigan, Michigan State University and Wayne State University could delay implementing Proposal 2 in early 2007. The amendment explicitly applied to the University of Michigan, whose affirmative action policies in admissions were reviewed by the US Supreme Court in the Grutter and Gratz cases in 2003. The court ruled that the US Constitution permitted the university to consider race as a factor in the admissions process, upholding the University law school admissions policy [Grutter opinion text] while rejecting the more rigid undergraduate admissions system as discriminatory [Gratz opinion text].